By Himanshi Dhawan

(source: Times of India)

For weeks after the Kashmir Valley erupted in anger, the stone-pelting protesters were described as semi-literate, unemployed youth being manipulated by secessionist leaders.That’s just a partial truth, as TOI found out after speaking to the men behind the masks. Many of the stone-pelters are youths with college degrees, some with academic careers or once-thriving businesses.

Such is the anger in the Valley that these youths, most of them with no prior political affiliations, are now willing to throw caution to the winds and give up their career dreams for "azadi".

A final year commerce student, Atiq, a "stone-pelter" himself, calls it a "haq ki ladaai (a fight for rights)". At 21, Atiq should have been weighing career options. But he says there are can be no career without a future.

"I am not scared that I will die by a bullet. I would have died doing something good. I have lived my life in the shadow of bullets. I can die by one without any remorse," he says in chaste Urdu.

But why pelt stones? "Throwing stones is retaliation. The forces have attacked us, shooting bullets at our chest and above the waist. They beat us without provocation. Won't we aim stones at their heads? The forces are lying when they say that they shoot in self-defence," he adds. Agrees Riyaz, a management teacher at a city university who has participated in 80 to 90 protest marches by now. "I have studied in Saudi Arabia and central Asia. When I came back to Srinagar some years back, I was 17 years old and I realized that I had been living in an illusion. The reality was that we were constantly checked at gunpoint and were always under suspicion. There was no freedom here. It was a huge shock," he says in fluent English. He explains how stone pelting came as a spontaneous reaction. "We have been subjected to unprovoked violence. The forces do it on purpose to spread fear and oppression. We can't fight the might of the government militarily, so we are employing every means possible to get our voice heard including stone pelting, speaking to the international media and writing articles that give our point of view," he says. Kashmiris deserve "truth and justice", he says, adding the movement was a retaliation to India's unfulfilled promise. He has watched friends get picked up from their homes in the middle of the night, seen his family being searched at checkposts and decided he had had enough. Hamid, a postgraduate, says that the disenchantment and anger has spread to entire families and is no longer restricted to certain groups. "My mother who never allowed me to step out in protest, yesterday said enough is enough and asked us to go out and protest," he says. Atiq too says his parents know he pelts stones but do not discourage him from going out during curfew hours. Despite weeks of shortages of food and medicines, and protesters landing up in hospitals with injuries, the resentment seems to have only grown. "It has never been like this. Between August 2009 to May 2010 there were only a few strikes called by the separatists and we were able to work even if we couldn't keep our offices open. But for the last three months, there has been a complete shutdown," says Hamid. (All names changed to protect identity)

MRN

Author: MRN Network

The aspiration of the Media Review Network is to dispel the myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster bridges of understanding among the diverse people of our country. The Media Review Network believes that Muslim perspectives on issues impacting on South Africans are a prerequisite to a better appreciation of Islam.